Target of four week cancer diagnosis plan
More details of plans to improve cancer care in England have been revealed.
The target – recommended by the Independent Cancer Taskforce – will be trialled in five hospitals before being rolled out nationwide if successful.
Faster cancer diagnosis could save 11,000 lives a year, the taskforce said.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK lagged behind other western European countries in cancer survival rates and the new measures would help “close the gap”.
“We know that the biggest single factor that means that our cancer survival rates lag those of France, Germany and other European countries is the fact that we have too much late diagnosis; we don’t get an answer to people quickly enough,” he said.
Mr Hunt said he was making “a very simple promise to all NHS patients” that by 2020 they would have a cancer diagnosis or an all-clear within 28 days.
However, the Department of Health later clarified that while it hoped to achieve the Independent Cancer Taskforce target of 95% by 2020, it would only be clear once trials were completed whether that was achievable.
Speeding up diagnosis would require more cancer consultants, specialist nurses, staff trained in endoscopies and diagnostic tests, Mr Hunt added.
Currently 280,000 people in England are diagnosed with cancer each year – with half surviving for at least 10 years.
Patients are meant to see a specialist within two weeks of a GP referral under existing targets but may then face a long wait for test results, meaning a growing number of patients do not get their treatment started within the recommended 62 days.
Cancer patients will also get online access to their test results if they choose, under the new measures.
Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK and chairman of the Independent Cancer Taskforce, said services for diagnosing cancer were under immense pressure, which is why increased investment and extra staff were so important.
“Introducing the 28-day ambition for patients to receive a diagnosis will maximise the impact of this investment which, together with making results available online, will spare people unnecessary added anxiety and help cancer patients to begin treatment sooner,” he said.
The announcement comes after a cross-party group of MPs warned that cancer services had “lost momentum” in the past two years.
The health service has been struggling to meet waiting times and seen resources reduced, the Public Accounts Committee warned.
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